Feb 23, 2004 — More than 100 Yeshiva University students made a 48-hour trip to the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, to support Israel’s sovereign right to self-defense. YU students, accompanied by University administration members Hillel Davis, Peter Ferrara, Beth Hait, and Danny Morris joined members of ZAKA organization and students from Israel, in registering their strong dissatisfaction with the UN court’s proceedings on Israel’s defense barrier. The students spontaneously broke out in dance and song, creating a spiritually uplifting atmosphere, a stark contrast to the suicide-bombed bus brought to The Hague from Jerusalem by ZAKA and on display near the court’s Peace Palace.
REFLECTIONS ON YU STUDENT PROTEST AT THE HAGUE
Gavri Butler, YC ‘04
A great deal has been written recently about Middle East activism on college campuses. Yeshiva University students have both an advantage and disadvantage in this regard. On one hand, our campuses are fairly homogeneous in population, devoid of any significant Arab or Muslim presence, which means little opportunity for debate. However, this affords us the opportunity to band together and gather the strength of numbers. And we can mobilize more quickly, as was recently demonstrated.
On Tuesday, February 17, I met with some other students to start exploring the possibility of arranging a mission to The Hague to demonstrate at the International Court of Justice in support of Israel’s security fence. Within two days we had secured funding, and had contacted everyone from the airline to a kosher caterer in Amsterdam. By Friday we had a group of 100 students and administrators, a group that would make Israel – and Yeshiva University – proud. We flew out of Newark at 7PM on Sunday night and returned Tuesday afternoon–a one-night stand in Amsterdam, a whirlwind.
We arrived in Amsterdam and after a quick prayer stop, rushed to The Hague to join the crowd of protesters already a thousand strong. We stood with a group from Zaka and Magen David Adom. We stood with the carcass of a bus that had been destroyed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem two weeks ago. We stood with Jewish students from Holland, France, England, Italy and Israel. We stood with the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters of terrorists’ victims. We stood, together, with Israel.
What really brought the trip full circle was a hurried visit to Anne Frank’s house and the Portuguese Synagogue –which was built in 1675 and holds 1200 people –on our way out of town. These sites represent the destruction of European Jewry. Though Amsterdam retains a small but vibrant Jewish population, it pales in comparison with that of 60 years ago.
And for me that was the message. This trip was not political. Israel felt that the best political response to this “trial” was to ignore it completely. But our message was that Jews will no longer stand idly by as the world rises up against us. Jews from North America will come to Europe to challenge representatives of countries in Africa and Asia. All over a piece of land less than the size of New Jersey.
Sort of makes you wish you were a college student.
Dr. Hillel Davis, Vice President for University Life
A group of students approached me about organizing a mission to demonstrate in support of Israel and its right to defend itself, at The Hague in front of the Peace Palace the day the hearings were to begin at the International Court of Justice. They contacted the Dutch community, they helped raise the money, they put out the notice, they negotiated the deal with Continental Airlines, arranged for Kosher food and lodging, organized a tour of Jewish Amsterdam in the 30 hours we were to be there. They did it virtually on their own. Within a couple of hours of notification, 300 students applied for 100 spots.
We left Sunday evening and went straight from the airport to The Hague to join the Dutch community and members of the World Union of Jewish Students who were already there. Members of Zaka had brought a burned out bus to put on display outside the Palace. Europe apparently is much more staid and proper when it comes to demonstrations. Many were uncomfortable with the bus and felt it was provocative so they arranged to cart it away before the demonstration was over.
First we watched and participated as the Christian community supported our efforts through a silent vigil in which they carried pictures of the more than 900 terror deaths. Then our students know what to do at a protest…they listen to speeches and then they sing about the continuity of the Jewish people and how we truly believe that we will overcome any and all adversity. Some in the community were uncomfortable with the vocal nature of our role. But the moments when our students locked arms with the Zaka members and Dutch citizens to sing Ani Maamin and songs of peace in Yerushalayim were truly spiritual and spoke to the incredible vitality and universal nature of our yearning for peace.
We had to leave before 2 PM so the Palestinian demonstration could have their time at the same place. That by the way provided the major coverage for the Dutch and European TV stations. They got five minutes of coverage for every minute the Jewish side did. When we left The Hague, we went back to Amsterdam so we could get to the Ashkenazi shul to daven mincha. Since it was Rosh Chodesh and the first day of Adar, Maariv was concluded with singing and dancing around the shul to the tune of Mishenichnas Adar. These young people truly are our hope for future happiness and peace. Then we walked around the old city of Amsterdam, had dinner which was arranged through the owner of the hotel and the Rabbi of the Amsterdam community, took a boat ride around the canals. The next morning was a visit to Anne Frank house and the old Spanish Portuguese Synagogue and then back to the airport–about 46 hours from door to door, 30 hours in Amsterdam of which we slept about six.
I was discouraged and encouraged. Discouraged because the Jewish attendance at the demonstration was much less than was promised. Encouraged because we have the very finest of young people who are devoted to the Jewish people — its Torah, its land and its people — and who are willing to literally drop everything at a moment’s notice to demonstrate their love for their fellow Jews.